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The Haunted Bookshop
This piece was inspired by an antique bookshop where live called Isaiah Thomas Books and Prints it is a bookstore that was built in 1860 and is included in books about some of the haunted places on Cape Cod. It has windy shelves and an overall spooky feel to it so I thought that would be a perfect place to base the setting for my story on.
The Haunted Bookshop
Leaves slowly swirled down in a cloud of crimson, amber and gold. The foliage is one of the main reasons Smithsbrook got so many tourists in the fall. Our town had some of the best foliage and harvests out of all of New Hampshire. In a few weeks we’d have our annual Harvest festival which was the highlight of the year for the town and all of the local shops. I grazed to a stop on my slightly rusty bike. Today was my first day at work, and I had just gotten hired at Hawkins Books and Prints. It also happened to be my favorite bookstore, I had been going there since I was old enough to read. Whenever I went in there for what felt like a short amount of time, I would come out and it would already be dark. I always just assumed I got lost in a book and that was why the time passed so quickly. I knocked lightly on the door a couple of times, so Mr.Hawkins would know that I was here. I glanced at my watch, and it read five minutes to ten. I was a couple of minutes early, but I can’t stand being late.
“Come on in Miss Hazel,”Mr.Hawkins said in his low gravelly voice. He figured out my name early on because my mom used to have to yell so I could find my way back to her. The shelves are close together and twisty so the entire store is like a maze. He calls every girl who walks into the store Miss just to be polite. Noah used to mimic him and call me Miss all the time because he knew it got under my skin. He knew how much I hated teasing. I clutched the door handle and turned it until it opened with a squeak. I walked up to the desk and signed the little time log Mr. Hawkins kept on his desk. The only piece of technology in the building was an old cash register and the speakers that were hidden all around the store. Mr. Hawkins said, “We’re not usually busy on Tuesdays, so you’re gonna be reshelving books down in the basement today.”
I replied, “That sounds good, do you have any books up here that need to be reshelved downstairs?” Mr.Hawkins pointed to the stack of books on his desk and handed them to me. The books were extremely heavy, and I had to balance them under my chin so they wouldn’t topple over. I slowly walked down towards the basement stairs. They creaked eerily with every step, but I was too preoccupied with not dropping the books to really notice. At the bottom of the stairs, I put the books down but in two separate sections so they wouldn’t fall. I sat down criss-cross and started to sort them by last name so I could put them away easier. Rousseau, Shakespeare and Austen were just a few of the authors that I saw. Philosophy, plays and trailblazers were the genres that were in the basement. Most people didn’t come down here because there’s a rumor that the store is haunted. It’s from the 1700s and is completely original which probably has something to do with the rumor. I don’t believe that it’s haunted because I’ve been going here since I was four. I got up and placed each book carefully in the right section on the alphebetized shelves. Most of the titles down here have browning curled pages as well as an old musty smell. Another reason to get this done quickly, it smells musty down here and there was no dehumidifier in sight. I felt the hair stand up on the back of my neck and my whole body shivered. It was incredibly warm down here, but I felt goosebumps form on my skin. I never really remembered the story being this odd or creepy. As I shelved the last book, Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility, An entire pile fell because it was no longer supported. “UGGHH,” I groaned. I glanced down at my watch and realized I had been down here for half an hour. Now, I’d have to inspect all of these to make sure nothing was damaged and reshelve them. I noticed that something was peaking out of one of the books. It looked like a black and white photo but I wasn’t sure. I pulled it out from the pages and realized that it was a picture. It was of a teenage boy, but the picture had been ripped in half but from what I could make out it looked like someone else was in the frame with him. He looked somewhat sickly with clammy skin and deep set dark patches under his eyes. Even though he was smiling in the photo.There was something about it that didn’t feel right. Like it was meant to be hidden or kept a secret. This was getting really weird, I decided to just scoop up the mess I had made and put it on the book cart that was down here. I looked at the photo one more time and then slid it into my jacket pocket. It would’ve been a really good idea if I had just used that in the first place.
*knock knock knock* Someone was at the door, I’m not sure if they realized if the door was open. “It’s just me here today; Mr.Hawkins is out I’ll be up in a minute,” I said. Then I added, “Look around for a minute until I can come up and help you.” That sounded a bit more professional than I’ll be up in a minute. Today really hasn’t been a good way to start out a new job. I jogged up the stairs quickly to go see who it was. Hopefully, it wasn’t someone who was in a hurry, I really don’t want to get fired on my first day. I looked up near the comic section and saw Noah. He was looking over at some old Archie Comics. We used to read those together when we were younger.
“Hazel, we really need to talk, I don’t have a lot of time because my mom just left to run some errands but maybe we could meet at the old treehouse after school? It’s really important,” Noah urged.
“Fine. Just don’t take too long because I have work again at four tomorrow. I really want to keep this job. You know how it is at home right now.” I rolled my eyes afterwards usually when he said something like this it wasn’t serious at all. He sounded serious this time though and looked kind of off. Like something was really bothering him. He had circles under his eyes and a worried expression on his face.
“Okayyy, well I’ll let you get back to work and whatever you were doing in the basement. Honestly, I don’t get what you like about this place, but I guess it’s kind of a perfect job for you. See ya tomorrow!”Noah said. That sounds more like him, maybe there wasn’t anything wrong, but I had a gut feeling that something wasn't right.
* The next day*
I walked out of seventh period, which was Algebra, today was a really long day. I furrowed my brows because I thought I had something to do after-school. I don’t have work until four-I suddenly remembered that I promised to meet Noah. I dumped my pens into my backpack, zipped it up before slinging it over my shoulder and started running. I walked down to the entrance where I’d get picked up by the bus, but I needed to be in front of the building. Strands of red hair were unraveling themselves out of my loose ponytail, but I didn’t care. I can’t believe I forgot. I guess I was just really stressed about school and work today. I was really curious to see if what he had to say might have anything to do with the photo I found yesterday, it was a long shot but you never know. I pulled at the door handle only to realize that it was a push door. I heard chuckling from the other side of the door. I pushed the door open and walked out towards the blue benches in front of the school.
“Finally, for a minute I thought you were gonna ditch me. Why’s your hair such a mess it looks like you just finished the mile.” Noah joked.
I scowled and replied, “I just ran from the other end of the school just so I could meet you and hear ‘what’s so important’, just give me a minute so I can catch my breath.”
“Sorry,” he mumbled under his breath.
“Okay, we can get going, it's not even that far and it just turned three. We have plenty of time,” I said. I was kind of eager to find out what he was going to say but I didn’t tell him that. We started walking on the sidewalk that led to the old town conservation land. Nobody really went down there, and a little way down the path there was a treehouse someone had built. I found it when I was supposed to be going on a hike during a school trip, and it’s been my secret place. We continued walking on the windy path, and I tried to avoid walking near the shrubs and brush that grew on the sides of the path. After a couple of minutes, we reached the old treehouse. It was still standing and was sturdy enough to hold a couple of people even though it looked old.
“Well, we’re here now,” he gestured to the ladder and said, “ladies first.” I rolled my eyes and started to climb up the wooden ladder, and it was surprisingly sturdy despite how old it was. Noah followed behind me and we sat criss cross on the floor just in case the floor wasn’t sturdy and we lost our balance. Neither of us had been up here in a couple of years.
“So, what was it that you wanted to tell me, because I kind of have something I want to show you.” I said. I fumbled around in my jacket pocket to make sure the picture was still there and sure enough, it was. I sighed in relief.
Noah hesitated for a moment and then started to speak, “ Well, you know how my mom made me clean the entire garage last summer. I found an old box of my grandpa’s stuff and when I went to look for it the next day it wasn’t there. I didn’t have much of a chance to look at anything. When I asked her about it, she said she didn’t know what I was talking about but was sure it’d turn up.”
“Actually, I found something kinda weird during work yesterday right before you showed up. I was reshelving, a book fell down and I found half of a photo and I can’t really figure it out, ” I said. Noah squinted for a minute looking at it like he was trying to remember something. Then he gasped.
“I think I might have the other half of that. I managed to pocket a picture that was ripped in half when I was cleaning the garage a couple of days ago, and it kinda looked like yours,” Noah said. “I have it here with me.”
“Can I take a look at it and see if I can try to put it back together?” I asked.
He nodded and handed me the half. I grabbed my pencil case and removed a small roll of tape, and then carefully taped up the photo. The pieces showed the boy and an older man in front of the bookstore. All of the details were the same, the shutters, the purple crocuses peeking out of the lawn and the sign was somewhat visible in the background. The young boy and what appeared to be his father were standing side by side smiling in front of the bookstore. “This person looks kind of familiar to be honest, maybe he was an old relative or something because I’ve seen a ton of picture frames at your house,” I mentioned.
“There’s another reason why I had you come here, I found my grandpa’s will, the one that no one could find a few years ago. He left everything to me, his old car, his military pension and the store. He has to be connected to that photo somehow, I just don’t know how all of this connects,” Noah said. He put his hand on his forehead in frustration and then inhaled deeply.
“Wait, let me see the back of the photo, usually those were dated, maybe I can try to make it out.”I said.
“Knock yourself out,” Noah responded. He handed me the photo, and I shaded over it with a pencil to see if I could reveal any sort of writing. It worked whenever I pushed too hard on a notebook so it should apply to this, maybe. As I started shading letters started to appear, “J.Hawkins 1941” was what I was able to make out.
I nudged his shoulder and said, “Look at this, wasn’t your grandpa’s name John, after his father? This says J. Hawkins and it’s from 1941, this could be your great grandpa. Maybe that’s why the will left all those things to you.” I glanced down at my watch, and it read 3:47.
“Shoot, I have work in less than 15- wait you should come with me and we can ask Mr.Hawkins if he knows anything about the will and the picture. Maybe we’ll get to the bottom of this after all!” I squealed excitedly.
“Yeah, I should definitely come with you, I wanna get to the bottom of this once and for all. I’m not getting answers from anyone else so maybe he’ll know something that’ll connect all the dots,” Noah said. “That bookstore always seemed kind of creepy to me, maybe there’s some truth to all the rumors after all, and that’s why my mom wouldn’t let me go there,” Noah said. We climbed down the ladder in a hurry and started to run down the path. The wind was whipping our hair around, but if we didn’t run I wouldn’t make it in time. After a few minutes of running, we reached the plaza where the bookstore was. I smoothed my hair out and knocked on the door before entering. Mr.Hawkins came to meet me at the door and saw Noah. His brows furrowed as he looked at him up and down then his face went pale. Like as if he had just seen a ghost.
“I guess I should’ve known this day would come, but I didn’t think you’d end up being a part of this Hazel. Come on, I need to show the both of you something,” Mr. Hawkins murmured. We both looked at each other and wondered what he had meant. We followed him through the windy shelves, and he pulled a book back and a door opened.
“Why’s there a secret door in here? I've been coming here for years and didn’t know anything about this,” I said. I was perplexed as to why he was bringing us back here. He went towards a dusty old book that looked like a photo album. His eyes darted back and forth scanning across the room as if he thought something was going to happen.He flipped through the pages and stopped after he found the one he was looking for.
“Come over here you two,” he asked. We both walked towards him to get a better look at the album and when we saw what was in it we gasped. Noah’s grandpa was standing next to Mr. Hawkins in front of the store.
“The reason your grandpa is in this photo is that he’s my half brother. I was older and was supposed to take care of things here until he was old enough to take over. He didn’t ever take over, though, because he figured out what would happen if he did,” Mr.Hawkins said mysteriously. He took out a page tucked inside the pocket of the album. It looked like some form of hospital record. It smelled sour down here, not musty and old but sour. Like the smell of something rotting.
“This is a record from Rolling Hills Asylum, every single person to live here and run the store has gone mad. Every single one. That’s why you aren’t allowed in here Noah. Your mother was terrified she’d lose her son. I’ve been working here, but things are starting to happen, books fall off the shelves even when no one is here, unexplained voices and I’ll get goosebumps out of nowhere,” Mr. Hawkins explained. He started to sound worried. “You two really shouldn’t have been poking around in stuff like this. History repeats itself you know,” He said enigmatically. Mr. Hawkins was weird but now he was talking in riddles. Like something was happening for a second time.
*Creaaak”. It sounded like someone was moving around upstairs but we were the only ones who were in here.
“Do you guys hear that? It sounds like someone is walking around on the stairs. The basement steps are the only thing that would make a creaking sound like that,” I said with worry.
“It’s happening again, you two need to get out right now. GET OUT!!!” Mr. Hawkins screamed. We pushed the door open and ran out to the parking lot. When we got out, we were panting and looked to see if Mr.Hawkins escaped. When I turned around the windows were boarded up and the house looked older. On the sign it no longer said Hawkins Books and Prints, it had yellow tape on it that said condemned.
“Hazel, the store wasn’t like that when we got here. Maybe he was right when he said that bad things happen to the owners, but I don’t know how it got like that.” Noah told me. Noah’s mom’s minivan was in the parking lot, and she started tearing up.
“You came back! It’s been three years since you two went missing.” Noah’s mom exclaimed. Three years? We had been gone for an hour, tops. Something happened when we were in that secret room.